This article in the Daily Nation tells the completely heart wrenching story of Liz, a girl in Busia who was brutally raped and then thrown in a pit latrine to die, something she refused to do. Alive now, but with a bad case of fistula and a broken back – she bays for some sort of justice. Her attackers, who she identified were told to slash some grass, then let go. This, in someone’s eyes, was an adequate punishment to fit the crime.
Liz is not her real name. However, it is a name that I have carried with me this week. Her name reached into my mind and pulled to the forefront the names we have heard over the years: Mercy Keino, Chelegat Mutai, Duduzile Zozo. Names that have managed to make their way out of the woodwork that would rather they undergo the rigorous process of forgettingness. These names stay with me because of the culture they represent. They are the faces, names to a struggle that runs a lot deeper than we would like to talk about, that we would like to see. They do the work of reminding us that rape is a very real, and a very horrible thing.
I’m worried about how their lives will be used. Will anyone talk to men, and use this as an example of what shouldn’t be done? Or will this be another excuse to tell women that it is a tough world out there? In Thrown, like another, Wambui Mwangi writes:
If you are a young girl, at the moment you become aware of yourself enough to look up and take in the workings of the world, a woman has always-already just been beaten or raped or killed. Because the food was late, or burned. Because she smiled at Another Man. Because there was no reason. Not-you has always just been killed. Or she will be, soon. Later today, or tomorrow, or perhaps it happened yesterday. Not-you’s body was found raped, torn apart, mutilated, dead.
The policing of women’s bodies is not something that we can say is new. From a young age girls are taken through a rigorous process of training, in becoming, where they should, or should not be as women. Simple questions like, “Why were you walking at night?” carry the connotation that a woman shouldn’t be walking at night. And, if they are, they deserve whatever ills happen to them.
In this essay 3CB writes:
The average woman isn’t afraid of being raped by strange men in a dark alley. She knows enough not to go there. The average woman is afraid of being raped when she’s in a matatu on her way home, and the only other woman in the matatu has alighted. She’s afraid that if she follows the other woman and alights at that stage, far from her own home, she might be attacked by random men outside. But she’s equally terrified of staying in the matatu and having the men inside turn on her.
This fear is how women are governed, how they are shown exactly where they fit in the grand scheme of things. I think about this as I try and imagine (a thing that is proving very nearly impossible) how Liz was feeling, thinking as she lay there all night in the latrine. Sinking in a sea of shit, what could possible go through your mind? How can one begin to reconcile what has just happened to them? No matter how hard I try to imagine what it could have been like, I fail to find the words, images, or emotions to get to the depths that she must have sunk to. I think about how much worse it must have been to make it out alive, identify your attackers and watch them cut grass as their punishment. Seeing the value of your life be reduced to nothing but a clean compound.
“and he who does not know his past,
is bound to repeat it”
– Saul Williams, She.
I think about the work these tales do, and about what may (or may not) come out in the future about this girl. Was she drinking? Is it a – generally – unsafe area? These are all things that may come up. As with Mercy Keino, the girl who was murdered – her body thrown on the side of the road like a cob of maize. She was drinking, wasn’t she? Because that’s what we do here to women who drink – we kill them.
The rapist has been portrayed as a sasquatch, or a lochness monster. The rapist is this monster of a human being who is recluse, smells horrible and only scurried around in the dark of the night – waiting for prey. A far away mythical creature. Most rapes happen within the home, where the girl is to be most protected, and the society covers them up. I think about the story of Liz and how the community watched in silence as the men who raped her were told to slash grass and now walk around as if they have paid their penance. Did no one in that community stop, and think “Wait a minute….?” Even if they did, one must worry about the collective conscious of a society where, even as one thinks of this, they must stay silent because they are not sure if anyone will accept the challenge they put forward. So this story, as many other rape stories, goes to reside in the cautionary category.
I’m wary of cautionary tales.
I’m worried that no one will use these stories to initiate that conversation with their sons where we are told that a woman’s body is not at our disposal. That conversation where we are told that consent is vital. That conversation where we are told that just because a woman smiles at you, or likes talking to you, doesn’t mean that she owes you sex. That conversation where the ‘friend zone’ is demystified – there is nothing wrong with being friends with a girl. It is not a screw or screw you situation.
The NY times, in June, ran a story on a victory for girls in Kenya. This victory was when a judge delivered a ruling, in which he said: “By failing to enforce existing defilement laws, the police have contributed to the development of a culture of tolerance for pervasive sexual violence against girl children and impunity.” In response to a friend wrote “Look how much work it took. To say what? That police should properly investigate rape cases.“ This bothers me, not that a judge finally realized the very glaringly obvious; but that it had to be discovered.
The data itself is glaring when 64.8% of women who are victims of gender based violence are beaten by their husbands/partners, the rapist can no longer be this monster that is hiding in the dark somewhere. When one in five married women reports having experienced sexual violence from an intimate partner, we cannot keep this rapist in the closet as a mystical creature we use to police women. Will Liz be the story we tell to enforce this rapist who is removed from society? To warn people of the rapist that lies out there in wait? To say, “Stay indoors darling. Wear longer clothes darling. We care for you darling. Don’t get raped dear. Stay safe dear, stay safe.”